Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options to
 an Unaware Person

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/unaware.htm

Updated  02-01-2015

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      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An "effective response" occurs when you get your primary needs met well enough, and both people feel respected enough.

      This article offers useful (a) perspective on awareness, and illustrates effective responses to  someone you experience as unaware. It assumes you're familiar with...

      This brief YouTube video offers perspective on what you'll find in this article:


      How would you describe awareness to a pre-teen? How about unawareness? Now compare your descriptions to this simple exercise and this concept. Our mind, spirit, body, and six (?) senses provide us with an endless array of things to be aware (conscious) of now and over time. These "things" can be current ("real"), remembered, or imagined. To avoid overwhelm, we learn to automatically screen out much inner and outer information, and stay focused on a small portion of our present moments.

      Our awareness is like the beam of a flashlight on the wall of a dark  tunnel. It illuminates a fraction of what there is to "see." With increasing life-experience and awareness of our awareness, we can change brightness, stability, direction, and the scope of our beam (narrow to wide). With meditation, journaling, and practice, we can become conscious of some "unconscious" thoughts and feelings, hunches, premonitions, spiritual realities, and "senses." Doing this increases and improves our life choices.

      Accurate awareness of what you and any partners are thinking, feeling, needing, and doing from moment to moment is essential for effective communication, empathy, and true intimacy - do you agree? Situationally and generally, we each can be judged to be between "very unaware" to "very aware."

      Where would you rank yourself on this spectrum recently?  Where would people who know you rank you? Are you as aware as you'd like to be?  Can you think of someone you'd say is "very aware"? If so, how do you judge that?

      This article focuses on four awareness zones:

  • inside you, (thoughts + emotions + needs + senses)

  • inside your current partner/s, ( " )

  • the dynamic process between you partners, and...

  • the environment around you partners.

Ongoing mutual awareness of all four zones is essential for effective communications. Reflect - do you normally evaluate a partner's awareness in important situations?

      If they seem too unaware, what do you usually do? Repress? Ignore? Numb or tune out? Feel critical or frustrated? Discount them? Feel superior? Lecture? Demand? Hint? Chide? Confront? Something else? Your choice of response depends on (a) what you need and (b) your shared bond and trust. What are your choices if you perceive that a communication partner is too unaware of these zones? 

Response Options

  • As appropriate, mentally review these basic options until they become automatic.

  • Identify what you feel around the unaware person - in general, and/or right now. Your emotions point to unfilled needs;

  • Identify what you need with and from the unaware person now - to vent? Learn? Inform? Cause action? Set or enforce a boundary? Notice the needs not listed: to reprimand, shame, manipulate, battle, punish, be "right," discount, "win," or show off. Needs like these usually indicate local false-self dominance and ineffective

  • As a courtesy, ask if the person is open to some personal feedback. If s/he says or implies "No," you have a different problem. 

If you need to vent or learn...

"(Name), I experience you as unaware (of one or more zones) now or overtime)."

"Do you see yourself as a fairly empathic / aware person?"

"Are you aware of your eye focus / facial expression / voice tone / body language / repetition / chuckling / interrupting me / rambling / monologing /preaching / lecturing (etc)."

"Are you aware of what happens when we start to talk about money / kids / sex / religion / relatives / our relationship / some conflict (etc.)?"

"Are you aware of what your fingers / hands / foot / face are doing now?"

"When you tap your foot / drum your fingers / clear your throat / say "Umm,'" / pick your nails / rub your ____, I get distracted and irritated."

"(Name), what are you aware of right now?

"Are you aware you've been talking nonstop for __ minutes?"

"Are you aware of what I feel / need / think now?"

"(Name), what do you need from me right now?"

If you need to cause action or set a limit...

"(Name), when you seem unaware of (one or more zones, or something else), I'm going to comment / confront you / point that out / tell you what I need / etc."

"Would you be interested in some ideas about awareness that would help us communicate better?"

"I'd like to suggest a simple exercise to raise your awareness and help our communication."

"Please take this quiz on communication basics, and then discuss it with me. OK?"

I'd like you to try a useful communication-skill practice with me on awareness / digging down / listening / metatalk / assertion / problem solving."  ..

"I need you to read this article on awareness (and/or awareness skill) and discuss it with me when you're done."

  • With any responses like these, expect the other person to deny, explain, excuse, deny, whine, complain, argue, attack or discount you, go silent, laugh, or some other "resistance." If s/he does, acknowledge it with respectful empathic listening, and repeat your original response. Do this until you get what you need, or your needs change.  

      Note the theme of these examples (e.g. brevity, clarity, respect, calmness, good eye contact, and directness), and use your creativity and vocabulary to fashion similar responses that fit your personality and style.

Can you think of someone in your life now whose unawareness bothers you? If so, can you imagine using responses like these to get a different outcome with them? If not, what's in the way?


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common social behaviors. This article offers (a) perspective on four zones of personal awareness, and (b) options for responding to someone who is unaware of one or more zones. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a genuine (vs. dutiful) mutual-respect attitude,

  • knowing what you feel and need,

  • clarity on your mutual personal rights, and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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